The political mudslinging over the replacement of a ‘Hanuman flag’ with the national tricolour in Keragodu village in Karnataka’s Mandya has intensified, with barbs being traded across Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress, and Janata Dal (Secular) parties. On Monday, January 29, BJP leader CT Ravi said, “The government (Congress-led) wants to remove the Hanuman flag and replace it with the Taliban flag.” His controversial remark got an immediate reaction, with Congress leader and Malavalli MLA Narendra Swamy submitting a complaint against CT Ravi to the Superintendent of Police of Mandya, N Yathish.
A day later, on January 30, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said that the descendants of Mahatma Gandhi’s killer Nathuram Godse were disturbing the peace in the state. Siddaramaiah’s statement came as he was paying tribute to Gandhi on his death anniversary. “There are people among us who worship Godse and speak about Gandhi as well. Those disturbing the peace are the descendants of Godse. People should live with love and trust for peace in society. No one should try to inflame communal passions,” he said.
On January 28, tensions flared in the Keragodu village after a saffron flag with a picture of the Hindu god Hanuman was hoisted by some residents on the flagpole. The Hanuman flag was removed by the police on the orders of village officials and the national flag unfurled, leading to protests by the BJP, JD(S), and Keragodu residents. The district administration imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the village, prohibiting the assembly of four or more people.
Though the situation in the village remains calm in view of heavy police security and prohibitory orders, statements by BJP and JD(S) leaders have kept the issue boiling.
Wearing a saffron shawl, former Chief Minister and JD(S) chief HD Kumaraswamy led a protest rally on Monday from Keragodu to the Mandya Deputy Commissioner’s office. He was accompanied by BJP leaders CT Ravi, Suresh Gowda, CS Puttaraju, and members of the Bajrang Dal and other right-wing organisations. Speaking to reporters, Kumaraswamy criticised the police action in removing the flag and said the district administration should have taken the village residents into confidence.
“I didn't come to Mandya to cause trouble. I came to inform the people about the mistakes made by the government. They created this problem just because the village residents did not invite the local MLA (Congress’ Ravi Ganiga) to government programmes,” Kumaraswamy said.
Responding to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s statement that BJP and JD(S) were trying to instigate people, Kumaraswamy said, “You have been a CM for five years before, and one year now. You have presented 14 Budgets. Do you have any administrative knowledge?”
Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar responded, “Kumaraswamy may choose to wear a saffron shawl or any other shawl, that is his party’s internal matter. BJP is trying to find a political base in Mandya and in the process, I don’t know who is going to swallow whom. They are trying to provoke innocent village residents to disturb law and order in the district. The BJP and JD(S) are trying this new experiment in the district.”
The issue began last November when Gowrishankar Seva Trust sought permission to replace a decades-old flag pole on a piece of government land. The permission was granted with the stipulation that the Indian flag and the Karnataka flag would be hoisted on days of National importance (Republic Day, Independence Day etc.). Sources said there was oral confirmation that the saffron flag would be hoisted on other days, as was the old practice. But this was not specified in writing.
Media reports say that the Gram Panchayat gave permission for the Hanuman flag to be hoisted. The new 108-foot flag pole was installed, and on January 22, the day of the consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the Hanuman flag was hoisted. On January 26, the Hanuman flag was removed and the Indian flag was hoisted as it was Republic Day.
According to sources, on January 27, when the Indian flag was being lowered and the Hanuman flag was once again being hoisted, there was disgruntlement among some people in the village, and tension began to rise over the disagreement between the two groups. The district administration, which came to know about this, then decided to nip the trouble in the bud, and headed to the village with police around 5 am on January 28 and removed the Hanuman flag.
Protests began immediately after the removal of the flag and the matter escalated quickly, with the police being brought in immediately to control the situation. Protesters sat overnight to prevent the flag pole from being brought down and protests were held in other parts of the state as well. Section 144 of CrPC was imposed to control the situation in Keragodu.
A First Information Report (FIR) was also filed against three right-wing activists and others for the protests on January 28. The three people named in the FIR — Pratap from Bilidegalu village, Avinash from Honagallimatha village, and Prakash from Keragodu village — have been booked under Indian Penal Code sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 353 (deterring public servant from performing duty), and 149 (unlawful assembly), based on the complaint given by the Tahsildar Shivakumar Biradara.
Meanwhile, the PDO Jeevan BM was suspended on January 29. The order issued by the Chief Executive Officer of Mandya Zilla Panchayat said that the Gram Panchayat did not have the power to grant permission for any changes to the land owned by the government and such permission would have to be obtained from the government, Taluk and Zilla panchayat.